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Keep calm and carry on pedalling – my 140km cycle challenge

 Published on: 3rd April 2013   |   By: Nik Allen

nik and helen ride

All smiles: Nik and Helen make it to Brighton

It wasn’t easy. The weather was atrocious and the technology failed us – but we did it.

My cycling partner Helen and I rode from Kings Langley to Brighton on Good Friday covering some 86 miles (140km) in bitter winds and freezing temperatures.

It was so cold that an hour into the ride my dinky little GPS bike computer, which was supposed to make sure I didn’t get lost, froze and was of no use for the entire trip.

But gadget failure and the feeling that we were pedalling through treacle were not going to stop us. The ride was part of our preparation for an even bigger challenge – the London to Manchester 24 hour ride in June when we plan to cycle 250 miles in one day.

I should probably mention at this point that my cycling buddy for this big adventure, Helen Grosscurth, is a super fit 32-year-old beauty salon manager from the Cotswolds (some of my unkind friends joke she is half my age and half my size).

We met in a restaurant in Brighton, I was dining with my wife and she with her partner, and hit it off straight away. So we make an odd cycling couple, but a good team.

But back to the Good Friday ride. All went well for the first 30 or 40 miles. The wind was strong and some of the hills were challenging but we were managing.

While the irrepressible Helen flew up the hills, I took it more steadily (okay slowly). After a few incidents where the lively Helen tried to talk to me on the hills we made a pact: she wouldn’t speak to me when the going got tough (have you ever tried to chat when you are out of breath?) but could go ahead and leave me to tackle things in my own time.

This worked well until we hit some big hills around the 40 to 50 mile mark, and I hit the wall.

I took a ten minute break, had something to eat and a carbohydrate drink.

I leant against fence under the pretext of stretching, but was really trying to brace myself to get back on the bike. I peered into a farmer’s field and spotted a helicopter and thought ‘What I wouldn’t give to be out of the wind and the cold at this point and on that helicopter’.

But, as I discovered, I am made of sterner stuff and after a few refreshments and a few refreshing words with Helen it was back to business.

Feeling revived the next two hours were probably my strongest and I was delighted when we eventually made it to Brighton.

We finished in 7 hours 22 minutes, which means I am on track with my training.

So what did I learn from the experience? Nutrition is vital. In hindsight, I think part of the reason for my lag was I hadn’t eaten enough at the right times. There were certain points when I knew I should eat something, but didn’t feel like it, and paid the price later.

Secondly, I learnt about mental strength. Sometimes you doubt you can do something, and then you discover that, if you push yourself, you really can. And it feels brilliant. I woke up the morning after the ride a little achy. But by the next day I was out on the bike again enjoying a 43km ride.

Thirdly, while preparation is all important, there are some things that you just can’t control. Take enough food and drink with you, have the right kit, do the right training. But let’s face it with the Great British weather some things are beyond your control, so just take care of what you can. And keep your fingers crossed.

This time next month I should have completed an ever bigger task – cycling 125 miles (about 200km) and will be just five weeks away from the big event. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes.


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